Pasta’ay (巴斯達隘; 矮靈祭) is the biennial festival of the Saisiat people (賽夏族; also spelt Saisiyat). The Pasta’ay is held in two locations. One in Wufeng and the other in Xiang Tian Hu (向天湖) in Nanzhuang. I visited Xiang Tian Hu which has a Saisiat Museum in May last year, although it wasn’t the time of the festival.
On Friday night I visited the first night of the dancing in the Chu Family Village (朱家莊) in Wufeng District of Hsinchu County. We arrived late in the afternoon as darkness was approaching. The first place to visit was the room where a stem of silver grass is tied around your arm and also to cameras. This is to protect one from bad spirits.
The Pasta’ay is based on the legend of the “short people” who taught the Saisiat how to live on the land. The two peoples once lived together in harmony, but conflict developed and the short people were killed. The Pasta’ay is to appease and pay respect to the spirits of the short people.
After observing the scene for a while the ceremony began a little after six. First, people carrying the banners of the clans entered the field followed by people carrying bamboo torches. Finally, the local Saisiat people slowly moved by with their arms linked. They sang and many had bells attached to their back which created a distinctive rhythm.
The dancing moves around in a circle on the edge of the field. Parts of the ceremony are limited to the Saisiat people. At certain times other people might be asked to join. As we were leaving we met a man on the road. He said, “I am Atayal. I am just going there to be in the audience. If they invite me to dance I will join them. If not I will just watch.”
All outsiders must leave before midnight. However, earlier in the night people are warmly welcomed to come and watch the festival and take photos.
Last year I saw two documentaries about Pasta’ay at the Ethnographic Film Festival. To see the ceremony take place in Wufeng was a very moving experience. The Pasta’ay only happens once every two years and it is something I will remember for a lifetime.
*More photos in the Pasta’ay in Wufeng set at flickr.